Organizing your application essay

Application essays and personal statements are genres unto themselves, so it’s difficult to know how to organize them. You might think chronology is the way to go, but chronology may not present you the way you want to be presented and it can make for tedious reading. However, dividing your essay up into non-chronological chunks describing the various aspects of your experience makes it choppy. So what can you do?

Think of the chunks as beads you are going to string together into a necklace. Could you arrange these beads chronologically? Not really. So how WOULD you arrange them? You would find a pattern among the beads having to do with their shape, color, material they are made of, etc. Look for a pattern among the chunks you have written. For a medical school application, for example, maybe you started with an anecdote showing you enjoying working with patients in a medical setting (perhaps you volunteer at a hospital, or are an EMT, or work in a doctor’s office). Let’s call working with people ‘green’ and the medical setting ‘blue.’ So your first bead is green and blue. Now maybe you need to string together a few more green beads (more about working with people – tutoring, babysitting, working at a summer camp, etc) and a few more blue beads (not necessarily medical, but stuff about science – working in a lab, favorite science courses, etc). Then finish up with another blue-green combo.

After you’ve decided what order to put the beads in, you can work on the string holding it all together – shaping each paragraph so that its relationship to the paragraphs before and after it, and to the whole, is clear.

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